The spate of youth restiveness across Nigeria in recent times has assumed the dimension of a national emergency. A popular adage says, “the devil finds work for idle hands”. Another instructs that, “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” Both sayings attest to the centrality of idleness in anti-social behaviour. With slightly varying reasons but ultimately the same bottom line, the troubles in the Niger Delta, the sectarian riots in both the northern and southern parts of the country, youth unrest in densely-populated Lagos communities such as Ajah, Ijora-Badia are all instances of growing instability fuelled largely by the availability of a huge and ready army of foot soldiers. The hydra-headed monster that spurs out youth to go on the rampage and engage in anti-social behavior which often leads to loss of life and property needs to be decapitated once and for all.
Of the several factors that feed and fuel this orgy of violence and disorderliness, unemployment is a recurring decimal. Nigeria’s rate of youth unemployment is still at levels that require urgent and concerted action. The lucky ones (7) who manage to escape abroad in
search of work often end up as cleaners, taxi drivers, prostitutes etc. We were recently told of how some of our youths work as tanker drivers shuttling between Iraq and Kuwait. Anything than to remain in a permanent limbo here appears to offer attraction to the ‘escapees’.
The past six years witnessed a series of policies and programmes aimed at promoting job creation and generating employment. One of such measures is the investment in the Micro Small and Medium-size Enterprise (MSMEs) sector. However for a variety of reasons the lofty promises of the MSMEs policy have so far not materialized. Just the other day the Director-General, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency, Mrs Modupe Adelaja, attributed the stunted growth in SMEs to the poor linkages between them and the nation’s research institutes. In other words, SMEs do not benefit from the end results of research efforts and this hampers their capacity to grow and generate employment. In many nations research and development, go hand in hand resulting in the mushrooming of thriving businesses. It is clear that we need to synergise efforts of all the key players involved to ensure that a fruitful collaboration emerges between the nation’s research institutes and SMEs.
This is not to downplay genuine efforts by comment to address the chronic problem. There is an obvious determination to bring about a turnaround in the nation’s economy. But although the NEEDS document alludes to a desire to generate 7million jobs by 2007, it is hard to see how this would be done going by current trends. One of the most quoted reasons for the sluggishness in sustainable economic’ growth is the lack of infrastructural development. In spite of the numerous promises to create an enabling business environment, the nation still lacks the conducive investment climate that it requires.
The 2006 Freedom in the World Report describes Nigeria’s economy as “repressed”. It states that: “despite efforts to improve the country’s investment climate, disincentives to invest in Nigeria continue to plague foreign entrepreneurs. Potential investors have to contend with poor infrastructure, complex tax administration procedures, confusing land ownership laws, arbitrary application of regulations, corruption and extensive crime”.
Perhaps one of the most pernicious items in the checklist of disincentives affecting the economy is the epileptic power supply in the country.
Unstable power supply is a major setback to the development of Nigeria. Our nation is said to lose billions of dollars yearly to recurring power outage that has continued to sound the death-knell of many a small-scale business. This not only swells the ranks of the unemployment it discourages foreign investors unwilling to put up with extra costs of providing alternative sources of power. So far all the promises of stable and uninterrupted power supply have come to little. There are however high hopes that the ongoing power sector reforms would by and large help to remedy a bad situation that has now been made worse by the restiveness in the Niger Delta and the resultant disruption of gas supplies to power plants.
The drive towards job creation and employment generation is expected to be led by the private sector. Any private sector-led initiative in this regard, however, can only be effective if the Government puts together the other pieces of the jigsaw to complete the picture.
Another veritable instrument of employment generation is the Government’s local content policy targeted at foreign-owned companies in five key areas of engineering design, fabrication and construction, materials and manufacturing, banking and insurance and shipping and logistics. The Government desires that by 2006, 45 per cent of the workforce of a foreign-owned company should be Nigerians and 70 per cent by 2010. But just how effective is this policy? There are reports that foreign oil and gas firms allegedly try to subvert the policy by registering companies purporting to be Nigerian owned when in fact they are not. This would have an adverse effect on the local content policy. Frequent reports about friction between companies and their host communities over employment issues are pointers to the fact that all is not quite as it should be on this front. On several occasions, local youth invade a company’s premises in protest against its employment policy.
Mindful of the lapses of the past that have now ballooned into the nightmare of the Niger Delta, the Ogun State Government is blazing the trail in the application of a new approach to developing the gas project in Olokola, with innovative templates for managing community relations and labour issues.
Numerous skills acquisition and training programmes have also been established all over Nigeria to’ promote employment generation and job creation. Several first ladies have built gender-friendly skill acquisition centres as part of their efforts to create and expand opportunities for women. Skills centres have a role to play in empowering the youth to become active participants in the nation’s economy. If properly funded and well run they have the potential to build an impressive army of skilled and employable workers. The National Directorate of Employment has been around for many years to, as its name suggests, generate employment. This it does mostly through training and encouraging self-employment. The agency recently published a total of 693 persons who on a state by state asis have benefited from loans disbursement. Not a figure to celebrate if compared with the teeming numbers of unemployment youths! On its own part, the Educational Trust Fund (ETF) announced recently that it was going to revamp technical and vocational education. The good sense in this strategy is that it brings a renewed interest in subjects that have up till now been shunned for the elusive white-collar jobs. More importantly, this should stem the practice of importing technicians and experts to perform jobs due to the shortage of relevant skills in the country.
The Ogun State Employment Generation Programme (OGEGEP) now known as the Bureau for Employment Generation was set up by the Administration of Governor Gbenga Daniel to tackle the unemployment situation in the State, especially amongst the youth. It provides training for youths in agricultural and non-agricultural/vocational skills and supports them to set up small businesses to earn a sustainable livelihood and ultimately become employers of labour in their own right. The concept of OGEGEP encapsulates the goals set by the State’s development agenda to provide decent and productive employment and reduce the rate of unemployment to the barest minimum in the State as well as address poverty alleviation.
To date over 20,000 jobs – both directly and indirectly – have been created under this programme, which has certainly gone a long way in getting youths off the streets into productive and decent employment. With this record of the Daniel Administration, it is perhaps not a coincidence that despite its nearness to the volatile Lagos metropolis, Ogun remains one of the most peaceful states in the federation.